The Iranian Threat: Independence and Security
According to a January 10th posting on Coteret, a news, analysis and opinion website from the Israeli print and electronic media, Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu was ‘infuriated’ by comments made last Thursday at a briefing with outgoing Mossad Director Meir Dagan. Dagan told reporters that Iran would be ‘unable to develop a nuclear bomb before 2015.’
By making this assertion, Meir Dagan has done more than disagree with Netanyahu; he has accepted earlier judgments rendered by declassified US National Intelligence Estimates (NIEs), one from 2007 and the other from 2005. The 2007 NIE stated plainly that “Iran does not currently have a nuclear weapon,” something no intelligence expert would have claimed, but that a host of rightwing media pundits and pro-Israel fear-mongerers often tried to maintain. In 2005 an NIE stated that even if Iran were to pursue a nuclear weapons’ program, a prospect that was by no means certain, it would take at least ten years for them to build a bomb. It is unclear why Dagan chose to back this more realistic stance publicly if he were previously so concerned about a nuclear Iran; nonetheless it is slightly reassuring to read that he has done so. Neither Israeli nor American political, military, or intelligence circles have so far proposed constructive engagement with the Middle East. Nevertheless we have to hope that there continue to be a few more semi-rational policy-makers than neocon extremists determining US foreign policy in Washington for the time being. Without them, the prospects for the Middle East in the next few years would be grim indeed, but for the immediate future, anyway, a military strike on Iran is unlikely. Let us hope this remains true, not only because of the catastrophe such a strike would unleash but because it gives activists a little more time to counter the prevailing mythology that Iran: a) wants nuclear weapons; and b) would strike Israel if it had them. Both claims are simply untrue.
A recent article from the Associated Press printed in the Wisconsin State Journal quoted US Admiral Mike Mullen, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warning Americans about the imminent threat of the Iranian bomb, a statement that is not only ignorant but irresponsible and dangerous given the drum-beating and war-mongering that is so often pervasive in Washington and elsewhere across the United States. Mullen, who frequently consults with the top Israeli military brass, was speaking from a US airbase in Manama, Bahrain -- a base that would be on the frontlines of any military confrontation if hostilities were to break out between Iran and the US or one of its many Gulf Arab allies. To prevent or at least lower the chances of another illegal and devastating act of aggression in the region, it is critical that more people understand that Iran does not want a stockpile of nuclear weapons. Indeed it is fair to say that to build a single nuclear bomb is against Iran’s strategic security interests, and those who hold ultimate power in Tehran understand this keenly. Neither the regime in Tehran nor the Iranian people are suicidal, and both understand that to possess a single nuclear weapon would serve as an ideal pretext for either the US or Israel to “obliterate” the country, as Secretary of State Clinton has threatened to do. What Iran would like to acquire is the technological capability and the materials essential to produce such weapons. This would upset the balance of power in the Middle East in which Israel alone has a first strike nuclear capability. Ultimately, Iran seeks deterrence, or the military capability by which to prevent or reduce the likelihood of unchecked aggression against it and other Middle East states. “Nuclear threshold” technology could therefore have a profound effect on regional stability by putting an end to Israel’s role as an unchecked regional hegemon. The prospect of Iran and, over time, other states in the Middle East and Asia obtaining nuclear weapons or, somewhat less threateningly, the technological know-how to produce these unspeakably destructive weapons is hardly one to relish. Sadly, however, it is more likely at present than the prospect of getting Israel to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and give up its deadly arsenal altogether. Iran, it should be noted, is already a signatory of the NPT and as such has the right to enrich uranium even up to weapons’ grade; it does not have the right to produce nuclear weapons, however. Militarily speaking, Iran is neither a threat to Israel nor to the United States, and has, at best, strictly defensive, conventional armed forces. Why then is Iran consistently portrayed in the US as a looming and deadly threat to Americans?
The US’s foaming at the mouth over Iran has much more to do with the influence Iran has gained regionally -- in part as a direct result of our irresponsible and lethal wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In both countries the US has directly enabled pro-Iranian forces by carrying out military policies that have left both countries devastated and internally divided for years -- if not decades -- to come. In Iraq, the ardently anti-American, Iranian ally, Muqtada Sadr, has recently joined the coalition government of his Shi’a counterpart, Nuri al-Maliki. Sadr only recently returned from nearly 4 years in Iran where he pursued his studies in Islamic theology. In Afghanistan many of the anti-Taliban forces the US has aided with arms, money and training are pro-Iranian as well.
It is astounding how deadly, how destabilizing and how short-sighted US policies have been in the region. The ring of US military bases that has sprung up around Iran, across the Middle East and Central Asia, reinforces the ubiquitous presence of empire and the high-tech surveillance mechanisms that our police-state clients employ on our behalf. As the Obama administration promotes a massive arms build-up in the Persian Gulf and on the Indian Ocean island of Diego Garcia, the knowledge that what happened to Iraq could happen to any nation that interferes with our aims intensifies a deep-seated resentment rooted in 19th and 20th century European colonialism. Like our predecessors, our policies demonstrate that ‘democracy’ is preferable only when it produces the ‘right’ results and that it is our God given right to continue the predatory theft and exploitation of the valuable natural resources of other countries. Iran is a threat to US corporate, military and political elites because it seeks to maintain genuine national independence -- and that is unthinkable for our long term imperial goals. Iran is a threat to Israel because it seeks to end Israel’s unchecked policies of expansion, settlement, and ethnic cleansing; policies characteristic of colonial-settler states in general and of Israel’s protector in particular.
In seeking to develop civilian nuclear energy, Iran is attempting to avoid the trap of having to import refined oil by relying on its own renewable resources. Greater economic, strategic and military ties with China may enhance Iran’s independence and assist the development of its vast natural gas resources that could make Iran an important energy exporter in the future. Within the Shanghai Cooperation Organization, in which Iran has observer status, the stage is being set for just these kinds of connections.
One last observation, but by no means the least important: those in the United States, Israel and elsewhere railing on about the dangers of allowing Iran to acquire weapons of mass destruction ought to look at their own histories, recent and past, before carrying on about the need to “strike,” “hit,” or “obliterate” another nation, city or village. Read the latest (Dec. 30th, 2010) report on birth defects, infant mortality and cancer rates in Fallujah, Iraq that have skyrocketed since the 2004 US attack on that desperate city. That report and half a dozen others released since July 2010, verifies that the effects of US weapons-of-mass destruction on Fallujah are worse than what was recorded at Hiroshima and Nagasaki. ‘War Contaminants’ -- such as depleted uranium, white phosphorus, and other deadly chemicals and metals have poisoned the environment around Fallujah for generations to come.
Those who speak so cavalierly about the possibility of war -- with Iran or any other country -- need to read just one of these detailed and disturbing reports, see the pictures of babies born with congenital malformations, heart defects, neural-tube defects and worse. They should be required to understand the effects of these poisons on the people at the receiving end of massive aerial bombardments and ground invasions; of shock and awe and molten lead. Speak to the women experiencing the spontaneous abortions; live with the parents tending children with leukemia, babies with deformed limbs, unexplained diseases, damaged brains and defective hearts. This is the reality of modern warfare and weaponry; this is what war is to the un-embedded and unprotected civilians unable to flee the fighting, forced to try to survive the towering waves of a deadly onslaught, and then to subsist on food grown in contaminated soil, to breathe in poisoned air, drink polluted water and live on an earth tainted by the venom of hatred and greed. Sadly, I doubt that Meir Dagan, Benjamin Netanyahu, Mike Mullen or Barak Obama have given a moment’s thought to these lasting and horrible repercussions of war.
1. Quoted in Juan Cole, Engaging the Muslim World (New York: Palgrave MacMillan, 2009), Chapter VI, “From Tehran to Beirut: the Iranian Challenge,” p. 207.